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Fairlight CMI synthesiser
computer musical instrument

Named after a Sydney hydrofoil ferry because it represented the latest in technology, the Fairlight is a good story of finding a new application for existing technologies.

Kim Ryrie and Peter Vogel were still in high school when they put together their first CMI (computer musical instrument) from off-the-shelf hardware. It was the first computer-based tool that could sample sounds from various sources (such as a dog barking) and use them in music.

New sounds could be created by drawing a 'sound wave' on the screen, which the computer would produce as sound. Theoretically, any sound was possible. Apart from opening up a world of new sounds, the Fairlight gave composers and performers instant playback. By changing the wave patterns presented on a screen they could tweak a sound into shape without singing or performing it all over again.

Stevie Wonder, a leading pop star of the time, leapt at the breakthrough. But the Fairlight was so advanced that generally musicians had difficulty working out how to use it.

Sales grew in the 1980s when the music industry started catching up with computers. At the same time, the technology got cheaper, and copies and other computer instruments took away the market created by Fairlight. The company went under in 1989, but Ryrie managed to buy back the patents. He set up a new and improved company, Fairlight ESP, specialising in custom-built electronic musical instruments. In 2001 the company won a Scientific and Technical Academy Award for the development of digital audio technology for the motion picture industry.

Who Did It?
Key Organisations
Fairlight Instruments : R&D, manufacture

KWA Design : design
Key People
Peter Vogel : developed idea
Kim Ryrie : entrepreneur
Anthony Furse : computer consultant

Further Reading
'What we do best and how we could do better'
Glenda Thompson
The Bulletin, 23 October 1990, pp 98-104.

Fairlight home
Peter Vogel and the Fairlight. Great image gallery
The fun of the Fairlight
Fairlight CMI information and sounds
120 years of electronic music
Harmony Central Synthesiser page
Merlin Multi-track disc recorder - Australian Design Award

New sounds could be created, played and recorded on the CMI. Courtesy Fairlight ESP Pty Ltd.
ATSE Powerhouse Museum